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Phoenix Forward

How the arts can improve SAT scores

paint buckets

Albert Einstein, who developed the Theory of Relativity, also played the violin. Leonardo da Vinci, an engineer and inventor, painted the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.”  These geniuses utilized art to exercise their scientific minds and, by doing so, they aced the test — the test of time.

The arts, from drama and visual arts to music and art appreciation courses, encourage students to look at the world in different ways. Today’s students can similarly leverage the skills they learn through the arts to increase their SAT scores, says Gay Lynn Smith, EdD, regional assistant dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education and an arts and humanities instructor at the San Diego Campus.

“Art uses all quadrants of the brain, and the only discipline that does this is the arts,” says the former San Diego-area art instructor who also helped create the University’s new undergraduate Liberal Arts degree geared toward elementary educators. And, Smith notes, “when mixed together with other disciplines, students involved in the arts tend to have a higher level of development and a faster ability to learn and retain ... I don’t know how the arts can do anything but help SAT or ACT scores. It exercises the entire brain.”

When mixed together with other disciplines, students involved in the arts tend to have … a faster ability to learn and retain.

The 2010 College Board data shows students taking arts or music courses for four years scored higher on each of the SAT’s writing, mathematics and reading sections compared to their counterparts with four years of courses in other liberal arts programs. SAT test takers with four years of classical or foreign language courses were the exception, the data shows.

“We haven’t given art enough credit for its value; on how it helps us become better learners,” says Smith. “There are academic and social skills that no other discipline develops to the extent art does,” she adds.

Among these skills, she says, are critical and creative thinking, communication, problem-solving, sequential learning, informed judgment, creativity, analysis, memory, emotional development, logic, reading comprehension and the ability to think in metaphors and abstract terms. All of these skills further aid students in their ability to assess, focus and apply their liberal arts knowledge to the SATs, explains Smith.

She compares the mental warm-up the arts provide to how adults encourage babies’ cognitive development through picture books, music and dance so they can better comprehend letters, numbers and science later on.

“The first five years of childhood development all revolve around the arts,” she says, “and then when students get to eighth through twelfth grade people somehow suddenly think these children don’t need the arts anymore." Hopefully, she adds, data like the 2010 College Board’s will exemplify just how important the arts are to not only enhance SAT scores, but also to make students more well-rounded intellectuals, following in the lofty footsteps of Einstein and da Vinci.